R6 Greta: The Lake of Gold, part 2 of 3

The morning journey started out damp and cool, a reminder winter would be just around the corner.  The sky stayed overcast most of the day, but by lunch the ground had dried and the going got easier as the trees around them began to thin. They traveled by secret elf paths and covered an four-day journey in only two days.  By two o’clock on the third day they topped a rise where they saw the lake in the distance.  The forest in that place gave out altogether so only small clumps of trees dotted the landscape between them and the water.

“A lake on the Dnieper,” Greta called it, but the others ignored her.

They crossed the river to put the lake on their left side and then Longbow explained.  “Look up river, over the water to the other side of the lake.  If your eyes are sharp enough you might just make out a tent camp of the Samartians, or maybe Scythians.  It is hard to tell you human folk apart.  This is the only safe side of the lake, and when you get to the top of the lake, you will have to cross a half day of grasslands before you enter the swamps.”

“Our eyes are not quite that good,” Hermes admitted. “Especially mine.”  He squinted all the same, but as the sun had come out after another overcast morning, and it started dropping down in the sky, and glaring in their eyes, the reflection off the water became increasingly hard on the eyes.

“Get the sun near the horizon, and I can see why some might call it the lake of gold,” Vedix said, as he raised a hand to shade his eyes and tried to make out the tents Longbow talked about.

“Longbow.  My Lady!” Lord Horns came up with three young elf men that were outfitted in armor and all sorts of weapons.  All of the elf men were volunteers.  Greta insisted, but the whole elf village wanted to volunteer, so her insisting really did no good.  In the end, she let Horns and Longbow select a reasonable company, which became more than she would have chosen, but less than there might have been. “There are riders in the south, coming up fast,” Horns reported.  “Dacians I think.  They must have got word of our travels.”  Everyone assumed he meant Mithrasis had a big mouth.

“Quickly now,” Longbow got them moving, but it did not appear as if they would cover the whole ground to the lake before they were overtaken.  After a bit, Longbow sent out scouts who by magic or otherwise, caused the horsemen to slow.  The Dacian chief sent riders to the lake on the left and the trees on the right, but continued forward with the bulk of his men.

Greta’s first thought was, at least they were not Scythians.  Her second thought confessed that this far from the Carpathian Mountains would hardly count them as real Dacians.  They might have some Thracian blood in their ancestry, but they were likely as Iranian as the Scythians, and thus as easily swayed by Mithrasis.  The Germanic tribes that mingled with the original Dacians lived far to the north and were cut off by Scythian and Samartian incursions in the area that began several centuries ago.  Greta hoped they were going far enough north to escape the Scythians altogether, not that she expected better treatment in the land of the Vandals, Goths and truly barbaric Slavs.

Longbow stopped, so everyone stopped with him. The sky filled with little flashes of light, visible even in the late afternoon sun.  One flash of light came up to Mavis and Greta and took on the form of a chubby, middle-aged Lord.  “My Lady,” he said with a bow.

“No time for that,” Lord Horns interrupted.  “You need to get men in the trees with bows ready. My men will take the ground and set a wall against the oncoming horses.”

The fairy King agreed and called several light flashes to escort the traveling party to the nest, as he called it.

“Follow the lights,” Bogus yelled, and the party hardly had time to say good-bye before they came to a small group of trees, a half-dozen lights leading the way, and whatever might be happening behind them got cut off from their sight and sound.

“These trees do not go all of the way to the nest,” a floating light said in a woman’s voice.  “But they will bring us close, and then it is only a short way across the grass to the lake.”

“Thank you, Goldenrod.”  Greta named the fairy queen.  “And you, too, Waterborn.”  She noticed the little light, the prince beside his mother.  He could not have been older than fifty, which in human terms made him about a nine or ten-year-old.  He spouted and squealed at being recognized, and Goldenrod, his mother, hushed him.

Mavis smiled for the little one and looked back at Hermes who dutifully led Stinky, now burdened with food and gifts from the elves of the forest.  Hermes suddenly jerked and collapsed, and Mavis screamed.  Several arrows came from the trees.

“Ambush!”  The fairies and men yelled together.  The fairies raced into the woods to rout out the Dacians.  The men and Briana drew their swords.  Mavis knelt, hovered over Hermes, and pulled a wicked looking long knife. The look in her eye must have made the three men who stepped from the trees pause, not to mention the fact that as an elf, she undoubtedly knew how to use that knife.   That pause cost the men, dearly.

A very big man in the armor of Hephaestus, complete with helmet but lacking the cloak of Athena stepped up to face the three men. He had the sword Wyrd in his right hand and the long knife Defender in his left.  He showed no quarter, and two men quickly went to the ground, dead. The third did not follow, but only because Stinky tried to kick him as he ran away.

“Lord?”  Mavis looked up at the man, but the man paused to see that Alesander, Briana, and the men, with fairy help, made quick work of the rest of the Dacians.

The big man then removed his Ares designed helmet and knelt down to Hermes.  “Gerraint, son of Erbin,” Gerraint said in his native Cornish, which Mavis understood perfectly, and Hermes did not understand at all.  “I thought borrowing a life from the future might give Mithrasis a headache.”  He laughed, but the tears came up into Mavis’ eyes.

Gerraint went home and Greta returned to her own time and place.  She kept the armor in place of the dress and red cloak she wore all day, but sent the weapons and helmet home and recalled Athena’s cloak.  It came still turned out with camouflage in place of the silver side. “Let me look,” she said even as Hermes moaned.  She had to push Mavis out of the way because Mavis seemed inclined to hug the man.

Hermes had an arrow scrape along his hard head. It bled a bit, as cuts to the head tend to do, but he would not need more than a little ointment and a bandage for a few days.  She helped him sit up while she bandaged him with supplies from her side pack, and she turned to look at the others.

Six Dacians were dead.  Greta saw the image of a lion headed man on their tunics, a great serpent curled around the lion-man’s feet.  She also noticed that none of the Dacians were wounded, but Greta did not ask any questions.  Nudd had a cut on his arm; but not a bad one, or deep, and he took it well.  The soldiers and Briana looked untouched, as did the fairies.  “A two hitter and final score of six to nothing.  I’ll take that,” she said at last.

“As you say,” Alesander and Briana spoke together.

“Wow.  That was great.  Do it again,” a young voice shouted near Greta’s ear.

“Young man,” Greta spoke sternly as she bandaged Nudd’s arm.  “Sit here and mind your own business.”  She tapped her shoulder, and the young fairy hesitated.  “You can hold my hair, just don’t pull it hard.”  The boy sat with his face completely scrunched up in case it hurt.  Alesander, Lucius and Briana all saw and laughed.  Bogus and Vedix made a reappearance from the trees.

“They have gone completely,” Vedix reported.

“Indeed,” the queen’s voice confirmed.  “They had horses waiting at the edge of the woods. They rode off, fast.”  Greta nodded.  She understood fast as a relative thing.  A fairy could fly around the entire lake of gold, stop to flap the doors of the Scythian tents on the other side and be back by the count of ten.

“How is Hermes?” Briana asked.

“He’ll live,” Greta said, and she looked to see him on his feet.  Mavis stood right there, arm around him, helping him stand and walk.  Stinky nudged up behind them.

Greta would not violate Mavis’ thoughts.  She did not think after walking all day she could handle the migraine it would give her.  But soon enough she would have to find the right time to ask just what was going on with those two.

They started walking again, and Greta became inundated with questions from a certain young fairy on her shoulder. Fortunately, Goldenrod flew alongside and pointed out to her son which questions were not appropriate.

The short space of grassland between the trees and the lake took an hour to cross so the sun started setting by the time they reached the water’s edge.  Lord Treeborn caught up with them there.

“It was disappointing, really,” he said.  “When they got close enough to take a look at us, they stopped and argued about it.  Some of the humans were determined to try us, but some were equally determined that they were not going to do that.  When the men came riding up from the flank, and now I see they were the ones who ambushed you, the arguments became really intense.  The elves finally quit the field, and we came here as soon as you were safely in the circle.  By the goddess, I swear they may argue all night.

Goldenrod coughed.

Everyone got silent.

No one especially looked at Greta but she felt nothing but eyes turned on her.

“It’s all right,” Greta said, before Lord Treeborn tried to apologize.  “I would rather you not swear at all, either by heaven or earth or anything beneath the earth, but if you can’t help yourself, better you swear by my name rather than so many other things that can get you in real trouble.  Say no more about it.”  She turned and stepped toward the lake.  The others followed to where they found a fairy ring of stones and a small clearing by the water.  The water itself looked full of reeds, but the ground seemed dry and with more than enough room for the travelers to sleep.

A group of fairies came in while the humans got out their things to set up camp.   The fairies dropped twigs, branches and logs into the circle and then they began to fly around the fairy circle fast enough to make a small tornado.  The humans could not guess how they escaped being sucked into the whirlwind and mercilessly tossed about, but somehow the wind only happened inside the fairy circle.  The circle of speeding fairies began to rise, and as they did, the circle contracted in size until all at once they vanished and the fire sprang up on the wood deposited within the circle.  The smoke rose straight into the night sky, and it continued to rise straight up no matter how strong the wind that came off the lake.

R6 Greta: The Lake of Gold, part 1 of 3

The group stayed one day and a second night with the elves, but the men all insisted that to stay longer would be dangerous.  Bogus called the elf village enchantingly comfortable and said even staying one day would tempt the humans to stay a week, or a month, or years.  Alesander said the longer they stayed, the more they gave their enemies time to gather their forces and set traps for when they left the sanctuary of the elves. Hermes got more honest about human nature.  He said they were sharp when they were on edge and struggling to stay alive in the wilderness, but too much comfort would leave them soft and lazy and more easily taken by surprise.

Greta nodded to all they said, but let them get a little soft and allowed them at least one lazy day.  The elves understood and took the people on a tour of the village.  They offered Briana and the soldiers time in the fields and some pointers in practicing their martial skills which might well be needed in the days ahead.  Bogus got carted off by several elf ladies and treated well.  Nudd chose to stay around the big house where they slept and ate, and that was fine. On Greta’s insistence, Mavis disappeared and spent the whole day with her own people.  She returned in the evening, happy.

Greta stayed by the big house.  Several elves came to see her, and a couple had serious problems and complaints that she could not simply fix by divine fiat.  She had to call on her every ounce of wisdom and training as Mother Greta to not disappoint her petitioners.  Even so, by evening she felt like a poor excuse for a goddess.  Oreona helped some.  She said they all understood that in this life Greta was a mere human with all the human frailties and limitations, and they could only expect her to do her human best.

“Elves are people too,” Oreona added.  “And people have to work out their own problems and relationships and not demand that the gods do it all for them.  The gods never said life in this world would be easy or fair.  We all need to do our best and hope that when the day comes and we travel to the other side, we may receive grace and mercy.  You see?  I used the Christian words.  I hope I used them correctly.”

“You have,” Greta said, and her hand reached for the cross she always wore around her neck only to remember she gave it to Berry on the day Berry went in search of her father.  “And like so many times, past and future, I feel very inadequate for all the faith and trust you put in me.  I am no goddess.”

“But you are.  You are the Kairos.  We chose you as our god and goddess all those millennia ago because you are frail and fragile and you regularly die, even if you are reborn and don’t really die.  We would not have an immortal over us.  We believed it was more important to have one that understood limits and mortality, hardship and pain.  I am eight hundred and sixty years old, and if I live another hundred and fifty years, I will have lived a full life, and thanks to you and the many lives you lived before you were born as Greta, I will travel to the other side with faith, hope and love, not fear and tears.”

Greta nodded, but turned her head to wipe a tear of her own.  The words helped and made it worse at the same time.  She could not promise her little ones anything when age or some trouble took their life and they left this world and headed into the unknown. All she could do was what she had always done; grant them hope, encourage them to goodness, kindness, peace and love and then pray every day that the God of the gods might have mercy on them.  It was not much to give.  It was not enough, but it was all she had.

“Tell me about Berry and Fae, Hans and Hobknot,” Greta asked to change the subject.  “Did they come this way?  Do you know?”

“They did, but we did not bother them and they did not seek us out.  As far as I know, they moved without incident or trouble.  Even the human horsemen did not impede their progress.”  Greta nodded, glad they were not troubled, but she did not get the chance to say so out loud.

“Lady?”  Nudd came out from the inside and sat on the far side of Greta, away from the elf.  He meant no offense, and Oreona did not get offended, but clearly Nudd felt uncomfortable with the whole idea.

Greta found a handkerchief, wiped her eyes and blew her nose.  “Don’t be afraid,” she told Nudd.  “These good people will not hurt you.”

“I know this,” Nudd nodded.  “But I can’t seem to convince my spine or the hair on the back of my neck.”

“Maybe a blindfold would help,” Oreona suggested, with a truly elfish grin.

“His reaction is not uncommon,” Greta said, and they waited for her to explain.  “I have found about ten to twenty percent of the human race is uncomfortable and afraid at the whole idea of being face to face with the spirits of the earth. About ten to twenty percent are enchanted in their hearts.  They love the little ones and only want more.  But the vast majority, some sixty to eighty percent are muddled in the middle. Most can adjust to being in contact with the spirit world, but they don’t love it and are not entirely comfortable with it.  It is kind of like politics.  Twenty percent for, twenty percent against and sixty percent in the wishy-washy middle.”

“As you say,” Nudd mumbled and tried hard to sit still and not fidget before he went back inside.

Mavis came back at sundown in full elf regalia. She asked if it was all right if she quit the glamour of humanity for the time being.  “Here in the wilderness?”  She asked, sweetly.  Greta gave her a warm smile and a kiss on the cheek for an answer, and then thought she better say something.

“Just be watchful and gentle with poor Nudd.  His fear is primal and too deep to counter. He can’t help it.”

“Oh, I will, Lady.  I will continue to treat him like the poor and needy son I never had.”

“I thought that was my job,” Greta said.

Briana stepped up at that moment and gave Mavis a happy hug, seeing her in her true elf form for the first time.  “That is everyone’s job.  I assume you are talking about Nudd.”

“It’s true,” Alesander said.  “Poor and needy son I never had.”

“Can’t fool me,” Hermes said as he came up and slapped Alesander on the shoulder.  “You two are just practicing for the future, using Nudd as a poor foster child.”  He took Mavis’ hand, not the least surprised by her appearance, and they went in to find Nudd.  Greta figured Mavis already showed Hermes her true look, but she was not too sure the handholding was called for.  Meanwhile, Alesander put on his most stoic look, an emotionless face worthy of Marcus Aurelius himself.  Briana blushed, glanced at Alesander and Greta and made a dash for the inside.

“Lady,” Alesander said with a slight bow.  “My intentions are honorable.”

“Of course,” Greta said, having known the man over the last seven years.  “I would be surprised if they weren’t.”

Alesander went inside with another bow as Bogus came up surrounded by a bevy of elf maidens.  “Farewell,” Bogus told them in a moment of melodrama, and two of the women giggled, appropriately.  He paused and waved until the elf maidens were presumably out of earshot, though he knew full well elf ears were miraculous things.  “I don’t know why I ever had trouble with the elves of light. They are fine people, even if a bit too honest for my tastes.”  He looked around and spoke before Longbow arrived.  “Where is the would-be hunter, Vedix?”

“Lady.”  Longbow answered when he arrived, having heard the whispered question from twenty feet off.  “Vedix and Lucius went for a ride this afternoon.  They said they wanted to scout the territory and the way you would travel in the morning.  Horns went with them, but it seemed to me they were up to something.”

Greta nodded but held her tongue.  Vedix was not in the anxiety twenty percent, and he appeared to be used to Bogus, but clearly, he did not appear comfortable around so many earth spirits.  That might have been all there was to it.  Then again, Lucius still bothered her when she thought about it.  Mostly she had not thought about it, but in this case, she wondered what he might be up to.

Lady Oreona invited them all inside.  “Come in,” she said. “We killed the fatted calf.”

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 3 of 3

Alesander stood when the lady came in and he took the moment to introduced the group before he sat.  The elves were good to wait until the introductions were over, but they appeared to nod as if they already understood as much.  Alesander ended with Mavis, whom he called the Lady’s handmaid, and Mother Greta, whom he called by her Dacian title without any other title.

“Mother Greta.  So I see,” Oreona said with a smile, and Greta was the only one who understood, besides Mavis.  Greta nodded and responded.

“I have to be careful what I eat at this point. I have been feeling sick in the morning.”  Everyone suddenly looked at Greta as if for the first time.  Greta could see the wheels working in several minds that wondered if such a journey was wise in her condition.  She ignored them.

“Morning sickness.  A human affectation I am glad elf-kind does not share,” Oreona said.

“We thank you for this supper and the promise of a time of rest, but you should know we are being followed,” Alesander took back the conversation and turned everyone’s attention from Greta, for the moment. Lord Longbow interrupted.

“By the followers of Mithras and the Wolv of Mithrasis. This we know, but rest assured, they will not come here.”

“And who told you we were coming?” Briana asked this time, and Greta smiled her approval.  As an elect, Briana naturally began to pick up on such things and ask for herself.

“Mithras,” Oreona said.  “The male one, and I do not understand what game the old man is playing.” Oreona glanced at Greta who quietly nibbled on a bit of venison and bread.  The elder elf looked at her hands and took a deep breath, which made it look like a time of confession.  “By my art, I have seen the monstrous crow, the lion in the thunder, the Persian whose magic is great and terrible, and the sun-runner, a magnificent beast, and I have discerned that all of them, including Mithrasis, appeared just over a hundred years ago, certainly less than two hundred years.  For some reason the soldier and the Pater, the Father are hidden from me.”  She paused and Lucius interjected a question.

“How could this be?  I thought the gods were there at the beginning of all things.”

Greta spoke up to answer the man.  “In the ancient days, when a god or goddess was born, reality changed to accommodate this new god, and the people all knew the god or goddess by name and believed this new one was as old as the others, being from the beginning of history.  When Apollo and Artemis were born, the people in the jurisdiction of Olympus, not everyone in the world mind you, but those subject to Olympus and the little and lesser spirits knew them and believed they were born at the beginning of history with all the others.  In truth they were born later, I won’t say how much later, but suffice it to say they were imagined to be grown up even when they were only babies. Mithrasis was born or created less than two hundred years ago.  It is only the reality adjustment that is telling you she is from the beginning of time.”

Greta saw Hermes, Lucius and Briana shake their heads, so she offered a bit more.  “Think about it.  You know that once the Titans ruled the earth, and the gods were born long after time began.  Zeus, that is Jupiter, was the youngest of his siblings.  He set his siblings free and they overcame their father Cronos and banished Cronos to the deepest pit of Tartarus.  And Briana.  You know Rhiannon calls Danna “Mother.” and I told you it was more like great-great grandmother, but you know that had to happen at some point after time began. Think about it.”
“And Salacia?” Alesander asked.

Greta took a deep breath, but could not imagine any harm coming from the telling.  “This age began between ten thousand and forty-five hundred years ago, with a flood and a foolish tower.  Salacia is less than two thousand years old.  She was born after the days of Hammurabi; just after the Hyksos invaded Egypt, and just before the Hittites sacked Babylon.”

“Two thousand years is still a long time ago for us poor mortals,” he said.

“That is a long time for us elves as well,” Lady Oreona added.

Greta paused and turned to Oreona.  “Since the time of dissolution, Mithras seems to want to build a new pantheon, and where better these days than Rome?  Mithrasis is the Nymphus, the female groom, the masculine bride.  What worries me is there are six altogether out there with her, but I cannot be certain about that because Mithras seems to be changing his mind.”

“She is trapped.  I have seen it.” Oreona responded.  “And the old Lord Mitra is trapped with her.  He warned us of your coming in a dream.  We only wish to help.”

“And I thank you,” Greta said for the group. “But good food and a good night’s rest is the best help.”  She would not ask the descendants of the elves of Miroven to risk anything more.

“But here, we have it all worked out.” Lord Horns interjected, and Longbow took up the telling.

“In a few days, when you are fed and rested, we will take you to the Lake of Gold.  There we will give you into the hands of Lord Treeborn, the fairy King. He and his will then guide you to the edge of the Swamp of Sorrow where Lord Crag and the goblins hold sway. They have pledged by every mighty word to guide you safely through the swamp to the city of Samarvant on the River called Heartbreak.  The river flows northeast from there, but after that point, you will be beyond our help.

“Goblins in the swamp?”  Poor Nudd had his eyes closed most of that time, and Greta took a moment to run a hand through his hair.

“Hush.  It will be all right.”

Vedix spoke up in the common Gaelic of the people. “Eat up, boy.  It may be some time before you get another feast as good as this.”

Nudd smiled a little, but having his eyes closed had not prevented him from eating plenty.

“I knew a goblin in a swamp once,” Greta said as a matter of conversation.  “I met Friend in China when I was cursed and sent to the hell of the Nine Gods.” Greta let her voice trail off as she reminisced.

“What happened?” Lord Horns asked, before Hermes could voice the question.

“He helped me escape from that hell, so as a reward I turned him into the first hobgoblin in history.  To this day, I am not convinced that was a wise decision. Hobgoblins, by definition are no end of trouble.”  Greta paused and came out of her reverie to look around the table.  Most mouths were open and staring, and the elves looked especially wide eyed at being reminded just what their goddess could do.  Greta decided it might be best to retreat.

She rose first from her seat, and after thanking her hosts and hostess, she made for the back of the room and the nearest bed. She sent her armor away with a thought but kept the fairy weave she wore beneath, and she curled up under the covers. She would let the others argue about the details of the journey.  After a moment, she heard Mavis curl up in the bed beside her, but then she slept like a baby.

************************

MONDAY

Greta and her friends soon need to leave the elves behind and travel to the lake of gold.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 2 of 3

Greta remembered a river being near the base of the forest, but she thought after something closer to four thousand years, the river might have gotten trapped in one place to form a lake and further along, probably further up river, it might have bogged down into the swamp they called Sorrow.  She thought of the elves of Miroven, how they loved the woods.  She remembered the dwarves of Movan Mountain when it was a thriving community.  She feared to think what might be living among the trees all these centuries later, with the dryads and their protective warmth long gone, and she wondered why it would be called the forest of fire.  She did not like that name.

On the fourth morning, she found out what Portent meant when he talked about earth shakes in the area.  They came across a geyser, and then found some pools of hot, sulfur smelling water and Greta thought of Yellowstone.  “The earth has shaken in these hills over the centuries. There is still hot steam and probably lava deep beneath our feet.”  Greta spoke over lunch.

“Then we should move on quickly to get out of this area,” Alesander said.  His eyes went back up the hills in an automatic search for signs of Wolv following. Most of the eyes followed his, and even Greta looked, though she looked to the sky and wondered why the Wolv had not tracked them with whatever auxiliary craft the transport offered.  Despite Lucius’ warning, the group might be forgiven for not looking ahead since they thought the Wolv were behind them.  They were also not looking for men or horses, and so it came as a surprise when they ran into a dozen Scythian warriors.  The men, all on horseback, were richly armored and wore tunics finely embroidered with symbols of the sun.  They were across a short meadow and easily saw the group as soon as they were seen.

Greta cupped her lips and shouted in her best Festuscato voice.  “Riders of Rohan.”  That was all she got out before the Scythians lowered their spears and charged.

“Heliodrom!”  The warriors yelled the name like a great war cry.  The group made a dash back for the trees when half-way across the meadow a line of fire sprang up in front of the charging warriors.  Horses bucked, shied away and turned from the flames, but it did them no good.  The flames cut off any attempt to renew the attack and then began to chase the warriors, even moving against the wind.

One bit of flame broke away from the rest and appeared to fly up to land and face the group that still stood at the edge of the forest, mostly with mouths wide open. Neither were they more surprised when the flame took on the form of a finely dressed gentleman.  “My Lady.”  the flame-man bowed.  “Mithras said you might need help crossing through the forest of fire.  Allow me to guide you to where you can be safe and find refreshment.

“Thank you, Lord Fritz,” Greta said.  “Lead the way.”

Lord Fritz bowed again, turned and started to walk opposite the way the Scythians were driven.  Mavis stepped up beside Greta as Greta heard Bogus explain to Vedix.

“Fire sprite.  I thought I saw scorched trees and stumps along the way that would indicate as much.”

“Your eyes are better than mine,” Briana said. “I sensed the Scythians, but I did not understand what I was sensing, so I didn’t say anything,” she explained mostly to Alesander.  “I’m just learning, but I did not sense the fire sprites at all.”

“Because they are not enemies, at least not to the Lady,” Bogus butted in and responded to her.  “Your elect senses and intuition are very good for a human, but very focused. You sense the bad guys.”

The walk took all afternoon to get to a point where the forest suddenly turned dark, like a day full of deep gray clouds in the sky. They all felt something foreboding about where they headed, and it took some real courage to keep moving forward. Alesander, Hermes and Vedix all looked to Briana, but she did not seem especially troubled by it.  Bogus shared a thought.

“This is nothing.  You should have seen the hexes and whammies I put on the forest east of the River of the Bear Clan.”

“So I recall,” Vedix muttered.

Several fire sprites came in fiery form to guide the group through the dark and up to the inner circle.  There, suddenly, like stepping from night to day, almost like Dorothy from Kansas stepping from black and white to color, they came to an elf village and paused to take in the wonders of it all.  The enormous trees there looked bigger and stronger than any they had seen, and there were ladders and tree houses and walkways between the tree houses made of ropes and vines, planks of wood and oversized leaves. Greta called it the Ewok village, though no one understood her.  There were houses at ground level as well, one and two stories tall, with real glass in the windows and flowers absolutely everywhere, including growing in the roofs of the houses.  The streets were stone, flat and perfectly paved, and they had drainage ditches guaranteed to carry off the most torrential rain.  Most of all, the smell of a Roman, Dacian, or Celtic village was missing.  Everything smelled fresh and newborn.  Nothing smelled of dirt and manure—not even the stables where they left Stinky.

“It would take some strong magic to make this mule smell better,” Hermes said.

Every eye went to Mavis, at least now and then, to try and pierce the glamour she wore.  She kept it up, out of habit, and to not shock the humans, but of course the elf residents had no trouble recognizing her for who she was.  Some of the residents paused on Bogus. It seemed clear they had few good thoughts for the half-breed, but they kindly said nothing, and Bogus did not push the issue.  To be honest, in the universe of the little ones, at least among the earth spirits, most were some sort of mixed blood.  There were very few pure-breeds among them.  Darwin might have speculated that all the spirits began from one root spirit or couple and only differentiated over time into light people and night people, and every in between like dwarves, imps, gnomes, pixies, ogres, trolls, hobgoblins, leprechauns and so on came about from cross breeding.  That would not be correct, but one might speculate that way.

The group came to a long house where they could sleep on soft beds and where they found a table set with a marvelous feast. Lucius, Vedix and Bogus went straight for the food.  Hermes and Nudd waited for Miss Mavis and Mother Greta to be seated.  Alesander and Briana sat down together, Alesander on the end seat, and they appeared to be in a private conversation, so the others left them alone.  Greta noticed that Briana’s Latin was improving.  Vedix still had some to learn, but he functioned with Bogus’ help. They all began the feast before three elder elves came in and introduced themselves as Lord Horns, Lord Longbow and Lady Oreona, a name for which they had no easy Latin translation.  They took three seats at the end of the long table set for twelve, which filled the table nicely, and everyone noticed the elves gave the end seat at the head of the table to the Lady Oreona.

“Welcome,” Oreona said.  She had a warm smile and took a piece of fruit from the table. “Please.” She waved at the food and those who stopped eating on the arrival of their hosts began again.  “You have come some small way, but not nearly as far as you will go, I think.”

R6 Greta: The Forest of Fire, part 1 of 3

The travelers spent the next three days moving through the woods that Greta called the Brugh.  They were mixed fir and pine at the higher elevations, but deciduous further down the slopes.  It did not look like a forest of fire to anyone, especially when it rained on the second day.  Much less did they expect to find a lake of gold.

“Believe me,” Bogus declared.  “If there was a lake of gold, the dwarves would be mining it right now.”

On that first night, Greta finally sat down with Bogus and let him speak what stayed on his mind and in his heart.  “I dearly love my granddaughter, Berry,” he said. “When she was just a baby, three-quarters human and all, so many of us worked so hard and with every ounce of magic we could muster to release the fairy within her.  And we succeeded.  She found her wings, and though she could not fly as fast or as far, or reach as high as a real fairy, like my mother could, and though she had no magic of her own to speak of, I loved her dearly and took the very best care of her I could.  I did.”

“I know you did.”

Mavis and Nudd finished caring for Stinky and came to sit and listen while Vedix and Hermes tried to put together something edible without a fire.

“And her twin sister, Fae, though she found a small bit of magic in her one-quarter spirit blood and despite her three-quarters human blood, I kept the agreement and never sought her out, and never knew her at all.  Berry was given to us and Fae was given to the humans, and I left Fae to her own people, though it broke my heart every day to know she was out there, but I would never know her”

“I know that is true.”

Lucius came in from the south and sat.  He picked at a bit of dried beef that they brought from the village of the Dragon Clan and had left over from their time in Movan Mountain.

“But then, Lady, when you came along after seventy years, and Berry as a fairy was just a teenager of maybe thirteen or twelve human years in looks, and Fae as a human was a poor, old woman of the full seventy years, I thought something might be done, even if I could only have both of my granddaughters together for a short time.  I was determined to be content to love them for however brief a time I had, but then you made a miracle, you did.  Poor Fae, when she was struck by that arrow in the battle, she was sure to die, being as old and frail as she was.  But you took all of Berry’s fairy blood and gave it to Fae, and filled Berry with Fae’s human blood, so Berry became a one hundred percent human, poor child, and Fae became half-fee, like her father.  And then, as easy as a blink of your eye, you healed Fae and brought the fullness of her spirit blood out, so seventy was suddenly not so old, and Fae was a happy dwarf.”

“I know that she is happy.”

Alesander and Briana came in together from the north where they scouted out the land and saw no sign of the Wolv.  They were not holding hands, but they might as well have been.

Bogus took off his hat and laid it gently in his lap before he continued.  “I’ve never been so honest and straight-forward in all my whole life. Normally, for spirit folk it goes against every fiber to be pure honest, but I honestly don’t mind telling all of this to you.  It is like a confession those humans talk about, and a great, life-long burden lifted from my heart.”

“Go on.”

Vedix and Hermes joined them so everyone began to listen, and everyone had the good sense not to interrupt.

“Well, I can’t say I am happy that Fae has taken up with that old curmudgeon, Hobknot the Hobgoblin of the Hardwood, but Berry being married to your own brother I don’t mind at all.  He is a fine young man, human though he is, and I will tell anyone the same.”  Bogus paused and looked down at his hat.  “It is not my place to question the way of the gods, but I don’t know what might have possessed you to let those four go off on such a daft errand.”

“They wanted to find their father,” Greta said quietly.  “It is not my place to say what my little ones do.  I can encourage, inspire, enthuse and ask, but I will not control. Ultimately, what you decide to do will be up to you.  You make your own choices, and have to live with them.”

Bogus nodded slowly.  “It was still daft,” he said.

“But you have not spoken of their father, your son.”

Bogus nodded again and began to worry his hat. “Damn stubborn and stupid boy.  He went off in search of his grandmother, my mother, and got himself trapped in the Land of the Lost.  And now Berry and Fae have followed him into the same stupid place.”

“Softly,” Greta said, and she touched Bogus and calmed the hands on his poor imp hat.

“I loved her, you know.  Sweet Clarissa.  She was so young and vulnerable when the Romans came stomping into the forest. She was hurt and cried so softly, like a bird with a hurt wing.  I hid her and cared for her as well as anyone could.”

“And you fell in love with her.”

Bogus paused at that stark statement.  He stared at Greta before he looked down and began to worry his hat again.  “I would have kept her, enchanted, you know, but she was so sweet and fragile I knew keeping her in a cage would kill her, so I let her go, knowing I could not go with her.  She ran, I tell you.  She ran into the arms of that man from the Eagle Clan, but she was with child, and the son she had was mine as he proved many times.  Oren was a beautiful child.  When he was older, he began to spend some time with me and some of the others, which I felt was only fair, him being half mine. He found out his grandfather was an old imp who ran off at the ripe old age of eight hundred and fifty-two, about the time Oren was born, and he cried for his grandfather, though he never met the old bastard.  But when he found out his grandmother, my mother Willow, was the sweetest fairy of light this world has ever known, he became obsessed.  There was no living with him.  He began to range far and wide through the land, calling her name, even though he knew, some two hundred years earlier, her troop had migrated into the north and would not likely be found by any means.”

“I tried to stop him,” Bogus’ words burst out.  “I tried to tell him not to go, but his younger brother, my Clarissa’s human son was old enough to help keep and raise the family, and he said he was free to go.  Stupid and stubborn, I tell you.”  Bogus let his words trail off and thought the rest quietly to himself. Greta felt glad for that.  He did not need to say some of those words out loud.

“Fae and Berry found their father,” Greta took up the telling.  “But they are all prisoners in the Land of the Lost.  We have to go and set them free.”  With that, she laid down, turned her back on them all and pulled her blanket up to her shoulder.  She feigned sleep until sleep finally came for her, and she would not answer any questions, though she did hear some of the conversation.  Lucius, of all people, got it right.  They were headed right into the jaws of the Wolv and the home of the goddess.

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 3 of 3

Portent looked up and looked worried for a second. “I was going to give you the tour, but I think we best get back to our families and move on.”

“But what is this place?” Hermes asked.

“Movan Mountain,” Portent said, as he picked up the pace and they started moving.  “It was a dwarf home ages ago, but abandoned when the gold and silver and copper finally gave out.  That was about two thousand years ago.”  Briana whistled, but Greta explained.

“That is only a few generations ago for dwarfs. Two thousand years is not that long when you live to be six to eight hundred.”  Greta paused when she heard Hermes whisper to Mavis.

“And how old are you?”

Portent picked up the story.  “About ten years ago, Piebottom got the notion that there has been a lot of earthshaking here in the last thousand years.  He thought maybe the goodies in Movan filled up again. I don’t know.  My great-great grandfather said they left because they struck water and the water got too deep to dig, but Redmold said that now that we know how to pump out the water, maybe there are more goodies, just underneath all that wet.  Then King Diggerclaw said the place where we were, over in the Alps, started running dry, and some already moved into Gaul and some all the way to Britannia, but me and mine figured we would check out old Movan to see what we could find.”

“Redmold?  Diggerclaw? Piebottom?” Briana asked.

“Nicknames, mostly.  But it is hard to translate dwarfish into a human tongue.  Some names are ludicrous, even hilarious to human ears, but the nicknames are easier to remember than Gleffondre, Porledwert and Ableminisco.”  Portent stopped and stared at Greta.  The dwarves stopped with Portent, so the others stopped as well.

“You must be the one,” Portent said.  “I never would have guessed.  You look like ordinary flesh and mud to me.”

“I am ordinary flesh and blood,” Greta responded. “And getting tired of these tunnels.”

“Just coming to that,” Portent said, with a grin, and led them into yet another great chamber, only this one still had some furniture, a stone table and stone chairs, and a big stone ring waiting for a cooking fire.

“How far do these tunnels go on?” Alesander wondered.

“Through the whole mountain.  We are half-way to the northeast door at the foot of the ogre’s pass.”

“You mean a real ogre,” Briana said.  It did not sound like a question.

Portent nodded.  “They used to charge a fee to go through,” he said, while the other dwarves and dwarf women magically found some lumber and started a fire.  No one saw where the food came from, but it soon smelled wonderful.

“It is mostly not magic,” Mavis explained to Hermes. “It is the design and ventilation that draws the smoke away from the chamber and into deep chimneys.”

Bogus explained to Vedix.  “It is pixies and Hobgoblins and such who live near the surface. They play the middle men between the light elves and dark.  Now, light elves prefer to work in simples, like wood and cloth.  Dark elves, what some call goblins dig deep, far below the scratches men put into the earth, and even below what the dwarves normally dig. Hobgobs make a good living keeping light elves and goblins on edge with each other, but dwarves, now they keep to themselves.  They hold on to their homes and mind their own business, mostly.”  He shrugged.  “But the concern is most times dwarves abandon their homes because they dug something up that isn’t so nice.  Goblins deal with that mostly, though they got a sense about it and know when to leave certain places alone.  Dwarves got no sense and sometimes don’t leave enough ceiling to keep it from collapsing.”

Briana took Nudd’s hand and made him let go of Greta’s cloak.  “You can open your eyes now,” she told him.  He blinked a few times, but mostly he did not want to see.

The food got ready at the same time they heard another boom.  It sounded very loud, but the roof of that cavern seemed solid enough.  Then there was another boom, and another, and every eye looked at Greta to explain.

“If they arrived in a troop shuttle or transport, there may be as many as a hundred Wolv, and they would have access to several smaller vehicles, like fighter-bombers.”  They did not understand, so she simplified it as much as she could.  “They can fly in a machine and shoot explosives at the rock and fire bigger and stronger heat rays than these little pistols you carry.  If they don’t break open the door, they could melt it.”

“Melt the rock?” Lucius had to think about that.

“One way or another they will get in, and soon,” Greta said.

“And we must be moving.”  Portent did not sound like he liked that idea.  “Eat up,” he hollered, while his fellow dwarves extinguished the fire.

A good hour, they heard a distant howl in the echo of the caves.  Only Mavis heard anything earlier with her good elf ears.  Portent stopped to sniff the air and announced that the Wolv had indeed gotten in, but they were a long way off.  Everyone wanted to panic, but held tight to their courage, until they heard a roar behind them, between them and the Wolv.  The roar sounded much deeper and more earth-shattering than any Wolv roar.

“Bogie beast, or worse,” Bogus mumbled, as Portent started to run.  Everyone else raced after him.  A couple of runners tried to pass him.

After an hour, they all huffed and puffed, and stopped in a grand hall where two dozen more dwarves were waiting patiently for Portent and his crew.  Mavis shivered, and her feet kept stomping, like she had not finished running, but Hermes stood right there to comfort her.  He turned her to poor Stinky who sweated and stunk up the whole place like only a mule can do.  Mavis hugged the mule in sympathy.

Alesander and Briana had their swords drawn and stared into the dark passage they just exited.  Lucius stood there to back them up, but he only fingered the hilt of his sword, like a man waiting to see the whites of his enemy’s eyes.  Nudd kept clinging to Greta’s cloak, his eyes closed and weeping.  Bogus once again explained to Vedix as the two huffed and puffed for air.

“Of course, after two thousand years or more, other things, dark things that avoid the light, tend to find their way in to abandoned Dwarf homes and set up housekeeping.”

“But what was that?” Vedix asked.  Bogus just shook his head since Portent started yelling.

“Ring around the May pole, make a right, sweet merry-go-round.”

The dwarves made a circle around the room and began a soft chant.  The chant rose in volume until it became a shout and something ghostly, like a wraith moving fast in the night, shot off down the ten corridors that emptied into the room.

“Our scent and signs of our passage will be found down each of these halls and tunnels.  Some go to living quarters, some to mining operations.  Four go to outside doors from this antechamber.  We take the second tunnel, to the northeast door that lets out at the foot of the mountains below the ogre’s pass.”

“But how will we get through the pass?” Hermes wondered.

“We won’t have to,” Greta said.  “We traveled to the other side of the mountain in a day.”

“Quite right,” Portent said.  “And we best move before we hear more roars in the distance.”

It still took an hour or more to the door, and then they had to wait another hour while Portent sent dwarves to the portholes and spy nooks to be sure nothing lurked just outside.  Once they opened the door, a string of wraith-like ghosts sped off in every direction.

“The scent and signs will give out in a mile or so, but at least if your enemies make it to this spot it will make them pause to decide which way you actually went.”

“Thank you, Portent.  Thanks to all of you,” Greta said, and waved and smiled for her dwarves.  They smiled back, but clearly, they had their own path to go.

“I think maybe the Roman side of the Alps.  I hear there are rich veins waiting to be discovered.”

“There is gold in them thar hills,” Greta said, and she took her people into the woods that covered the foothills on the north side of the Carpathian Mountains.  They walked for several miles, until dusk, and then had a cold supper before bed since they were not willing to light a fire.

***********************

MONDAY

Now on the trail, the next direction is to go through the forest of fire.  See you Monday.

*

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 2 of 3

Hermes grabbed Stinky’s reigns with one hand and Mavis with his other hand and backed them away from that spot.  Nudd awkwardly drew his sword, and no doubt would have foolishly charged the Wolv, but Bogus had the good sense to magically glue the boy’s feet to the ground.  Alesander, Lucius and Briana remembered their shields and drew their guns as the Wolv came bounding out of the trees on all fours.

It paused and sniffed, then it stood on its back legs and pulled its own weapon.  It opened its mouth and began to drool.

“Ready,” Greta said with as calm a voice as she could muster.  “Aim.” She was not especially good in panic situations.  “Fire.”

Briana and Alesander fired together.  Lucius seemed a second slow.  The Wolv returned fire, but one weapon had little effect on the shield wearing humans, while their three weapons together caused the Wolv shield to glow orange, then red, and then with a great crackle, burn out altogether.  The Wolv wrist burned badly, its chest caught fire and one leg looked burned to the bone. With a great howl, the Wolv returned to all fours and bounded back into the woods.

Alesander, Briana, and Vedix, now that he turned around and had others at his back, all started after the Wolv.  They stopped short when Greta screamed, “Stop!  You don’t follow a wounded Wolv into the trees. What, are you crazy?  We need to move on while we can.”  And she started down the side of the ridge into the valley of the winds.  The others followed, but they were not even fully down the hill before they heard great howls, barks, and yip-yips coming from the trees and the wounded Wolv.

“They have our location pinpointed.”  Greta continued to yell, this time against the wind. “They are expecting us to head for the pass.  We are going to have to climb the rumbling ridge and try to get to the ledge.   The only way we will get clear to the north side of the mountains is to go around their traps.”

“I don’t recommend it,” Alesander said.

“It is the only way,” Greta repeated, as she tried to hurry everyone along.

“Oh, I know that.  I just don’t recommend it,” Alesander also repeated himself, as he and Briana stepped to the front to lead the way.

Bogus finished yelling at Nudd.  “You are not supposed to get yourself killed as soon as possible.”  He went out to the wing, in the direction of the pass.  Vedix tended to stay closer to the group and clearly did not like the continuing howls and yips coming from the ridge.

Greta counted it an act of grace and mercy that they reached the boulder-covered ridge on the other side of the valley without incident.  There, they heard a pack of Wolv not far from their heels.

Hermes, Vedix and Mavis all struggled to find footing for the mule and dragged the beast from boulder to boulder.  Briana followed Alesander.  Nudd followed Bogus who kept yelling at him to be careful. Greta found herself behind Lucius, and did her best not to panic when the Wolv reached the spot beneath them.

The climb proved slow and laborious, but fortunately, the Wolv were even more poorly designed to make the climb, and had to move more slowly.  Stones regularly came loose in their hands and by their feet.  The ones above tried not to crush the ones following them, though everyone hoped they might knock a Wolv, even if by accident.

By luck, a little elf magic, and because Stinky decided to be afraid of the Wolv; Hermes, Vedix, Mavis and the mule got to the ledge first.  Alesander and Briana were not far behind.  Bogus and Nudd were slower, even with Bogus helping Nudd in ways Nudd was not aware.  Lucius topped the ridge, but his foot slipped, either by accident or on purpose, and that whole section of the ridge began to avalanche.  Greta screamed, but Nudd reached out and grabbed her hand. He pulled her to the side, to safety, as she watched the avalanche strike the Wolv.  She had not counted them, but she determined at least two had to be as good as dead.

“They are on the ledge, coming from the pass,” Alesander yelled as Greta hauled herself to safety.

“Damn.”  Greta could hear them roaring and coming on fast.  She looked at the others and saw a strange little man gleefully watching the collapse of that portion of the ridge.  She did not hesitate to take advantage of the situation. “Portent.  We need to escape the Wolv.  Quickly, open the way to Movan Mountain.”

The little man gave Greta the strangest look before he offered a bow and waved his hand to the wall of rock.  They found an opening no one noticed before, and the man spoke, “This way.”  The people saw the Wolv climbing again, and heard the others just around a corner on the ledge, so they ran into the dim light of the cave.  One moment they could see well enough to move into the dark, the next minute they heard a slam, like a big, stone door closing, and they stood in absolute darkness.

###

“Not funny Portent,” Greta said, softly.  “We need some light.”

“Just getting to that,” the word came back, and three torches flared at once.

They found themselves in a big cavern with a vaulted ceiling that rose into the dark, beyond the torchlight.  There were six dwarfs present besides Portent which added up to three males, two females, though the humans could hardly tell the difference, and two children.  Mavis made a fairy light, a floating globe of light which she let rise up above the group to give more general light.  To be fair, only Nudd screamed, and only once, even if a few others clearly looked uncomfortable.

“I was told to fetch you, that you would need our help,” Portent said.  “Though I must say, I have never been asked to help human flesh and mud before.  I suppose the light elf and the other, breed though he be, but mortal humans seems strange.”

“What about the Wolv?” Alesander asked, but Greta hushed him.

“Who told you to help us?” she asked.

“Mithras.  Didn’t you know?”

“Mithrasis?”

“No.”  Portent shook his head.  “Not that woman.  She doesn’t ask.  She has a bad attitude.  No, Mithras himself, stuck as he is in the place of the unknown.”

Greta breathed and Alesander tried again. “What about the Wolv?”

A dwarf woman whispered in Portent’s ear and his eyes got big for a moment as he turned to Briana.  “Well, well. An elect.  I haven’t seen one of your kind since, well, since I’ve never seen an elect before. You are very rare, you know, one-in-a-million.  Some say there are not more than a hundred elect in the whole world.”

Briana spoke with Alesander this time.  “What about the Wolv?”

“Oh, they won’t get in here.  Nasty brutes, those.  Still, I suppose we better get moving on.”  Portent and all the dwarfs with him turned and began to walk away. The others followed, but Nudd had some questions, now that he got reminded of the Wolv, and now that he settled in his mind that these were just little people and not dwarves at all.

“Lady, I don’t understand.  How could animals be smart enough to set traps.”  He evidently heard what she said, but his mind could not process it.

“Because the Wolv are not animals.  They are not wolves like we have in the mountains and the forest.  They are Wolv, a people who just look something like wolves, and they are smart and talk in their own language and they are clever, very clever, and hungry all the time as far as I can tell.”

“Are they like man-wolves?  I heard tell that back in the days when we were hidden from the Dacians and Romans they had a man-wolf near the Bear Clan.  I heard he was a person most of the time, but he became a wolf under the full moon.”

“No, Nudd,” Greta said gently, as they paused to get Stinky through a rough spot in the path.  “Liam was a good man before he caught the wolf disease.  It drove him mad, so he could not help the terrible things he did, but he stayed mostly a man and as you say, he only became the werewolf under the full moon.  These Wolv are Wolv all the time, and they are smart and clever and very capable warriors. This is not a good time for them if they should invade.  I believe the Roman legions and the armies of the Han would give them a good fight. But these are not invaders.  I think these came here by accident and have fallen under the sway of Mithrasis.  Our only real hope is for them to lose the scent.”

Everyone paused as they heard a great boom in the distance.  “Explosives,” Greta said.  “They are trying to blow a hole in your door.”  The sound echoed through the halls, caverns, and tunnels underground. Dust and pebbles fell from overhead.

R6 Greta: Movan Mountain, part 1 of 3

Mavis came in from the cold fall night and woke Greta before dawn.  “Lady. Bogus and Vedix have found the back door,” she said.  It took a few minutes to figure out what Mavis was talking about, but by then Briana came awake and got ready and several members of the Dragon Clan were there to escort them.

“The people of the dragon are determined to keep the notion that they have a back-door secret,” Bogus explained.  “But Chobar and the men of the Dog Clan are reported to be in the territory, only half a day away, and they are willing to make an exception for you in order to insure your safety.”

“This way,” The dragon elder led the way into a barn that butted up to the cliff face.  Greta smelled the animal droppings in the hay, which said the barn actually got used as a barn, and she tried not to step in anything as they made for the back wall.  Several men stood there to remove a well disguised bit of wooden planks and reveal a cave opening in the cliff.  The dragon elder continued to lead as the men brought torches to light the way up a broad path that wove through the inside of the rock cliff.

“Where are Alesander, Lucius and Hermes?” Greta asked quietly.  Her words echoed softly in the tunnel.

“Gone ahead to scout out the terrain above,” Bogus answered, and directed his voice to Greta’s ears so he would not disturb the underground.  Greta considered that ability.  Bogus the Skin wore the glamour of an old man, a ragged looking prospector, but Greta and Mavis, probably Vedix, and likely the rest of them knew he was in reality some sort of dwarf.  In fact, Greta knew Bogus’ father had been an imp and his mother a fairy, an odd combination to be sure.  Bogus had wings after a fashion, but he showed no indication his wings worked, or could work well enough to lift his imp sized body.  Certainly everyone, except maybe Vedix, knew Mavis as an elf, though presently they preferred the glamour that made her appear human rather than be confronted with that reality.  With that in mind, Greta decided that the ragged looking prospector look was not a bad choice for the imp.

“I can smell the outdoors,” Mavis whispered, like a person who had some trouble breathing.

Greta nodded.  She smelled it too, and she felt glad that Mavis was not like some elves of the light who were naturally claustrophobic and absolutely no good underground.

Up top, Hermes and two men of the Dragon Clan sat around the fire cooking eggs and burning toast.  After a short while, Lucius came in from the southeast with another man of the Dragon Clan.  He reported the road back to Porolissum and Roman lands looked open.  He urged them to take that route before he sat quietly and burned some of his own toast.  When Alesander came back from the north, he reported the way looked difficult, rough but passable.  Greta had something else to say.

“Nudd.  Why are you here?”

Nudd looked at his cousin Briana and shuffled his feet.  “I can help. I’ve been up this way before, all the way to the city of Samarvant on the River Olevant.  Father used to trade with the Dacians there.  I can help.”

“Samarvant on the River Heartbreak,” Mavis whispered.

“We go north.”  Greta wanted to say more to Nudd, but she thought she better get in that word before the others started expressing opinions and maybe tried to talk her out of it.  They took a moment to say good-bye and thank you to the men of the Dragon Clan.  Greta watched them expertly cover the hole to the underground so no one would stumble upon it by accident; then they sat alone with the sun just below the horizon and the eggs ready.  Greta nibbled with one eye on Stinky the mule that Hermes had struggled to bring up from down below.

“He can carry hard bread and bacon for a while,” Hermes said.  “I figure his natural smell will keep the predators away.”  A few laughed softly, but they seemed to be waiting for what Greta had to say.

“Nudd, why are you here?”

“Mother said to stay with you.  I can help,” Nudd repeated.

“Nudd,” Briana took up the cause.  “You will just get yourself killed.”

“So will you,” Nudd protested with some steam in his voice.  “Maybe I can get killed in place of you.”

“That isn’t helping,” Alesander pointed out.

“We go north,” Greta slipped that in again while Briana argued with her cousin, and since no one objected to going north, she thought she might try a piece of burnt toast.

Alesander and Briana took the point as before. Lucius and Hermes walked in back, behind Greta, Mavis and Nudd, with Hermes dragging stinky in the rear. Bogus the Skin and Vedix the hunter took the wings and kept their instincts open to warn against any predators, and especially to watch for Wolv.

“We ran into a Wolv on our way up to the village of the Dragon Clan,” Vedix said.

“You might say we saw eye to eye,” Bogus explained. “I can’t say what sort of senses they have, but it sniffed us much like a dog sniffing our identity.”

“Sharp.  All their sense are extra sharp, but the nose especially,” Greta said.  “Go on.”

“Well, after a good sniff, it didn’t seem interested in us and moved on.”

“Bogus put the whammy on it,” Vedix said, with a little laugh.

“Didn’t get a chance to,” Bogus said.  “But now I know what to look for.”

“Me too,” Vedix said, more seriously.  Greta put Bogus and Vedix on the wings, though she had serious doubts they would get much warning if any Wolv suddenly showed up.

All that day, they made a path and cut their way through forest and thorn covered meadows.  They stopped now and then to catch their breath at that high elevation, but the real mountain peaks stayed always to their right hand.  They found a small clearing before a ridge lead down into a deep valley, and camped before the sun set.  Hermes thought they made good progress, but Greta knew this would be a long journey.

In the morning, Greta got her bag and handed a watch-like shield control and a Humanoid pistol to Alesander, Briana, Lucius, Hermes and Vedix.  That was all she had.  Bogus and Mavis had other ways of protecting themselves, ways the humans did not have. Greta let go of her dress and red cloak and called to her armor.  It stayed shielded by the magic of the little ones who helped make it and by the power of the god Hephaestus, himself.  Likewise, the cloak, which she turned the sliver side to a green camouflage with a mere thought, had been made by Athena and proved many things proof, as the goddess declared.  She hoped it might be proof against the energy blast of a humanoid weapon.  She apologized to Nudd and told him whatever happened, he should to stay beside her until she could secure another wristband and weapon.

Greta made sure everyone knew how the equipment worked, and then got them to turn the equipment off unless and until needed. She could not be sure what kind of battery life the equipment had and wanted to preserve it, she thought, until needed.  She understood the need would be inevitable.

The group got out of the trees and came to a grassy ridge top, well before the descent to the valley.  When they stepped closer to the edge, they felt the wind in their faces.

“The way of the winds,” Mavis spoke softly.

Greta pointed as everyone stopped to look.  “My guess is the north wind funnels through a gap in the mountains over that way.  I assume that will be the pass of the ogre’s jaw.”

“And straight ahead?” Alesander asked.

“The rumbling ridge.  It covers the whole far side of the valley.  The instructions said the pass would be the only way through.”

Lucius spoke.  “Looks like there is a ledge half-way up the far side.”

Alesander continued.  “The ledge probably goes to the pass, but I would not want to try for it and climb up all those rocks.  They look unstable.”

“Rockslide, do you think?” Lucius said, before he got interrupted by Nudd.

“I remember this place from when I was young. There is a way to that ledge, but it is many days that way.”  He pointed at Vedix who just then came running in from the forest.  He only had to shout one word.

“Wolv!”

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 3 of 3

Stinky and the horses were taken by men who promised to tend them well while Greta looked around and asked if anyone else had wandered into the village in the last several days.  She felt determined to find the ones who were supposed to travel with her, but if they were not there, she thought she might have to leave without them.  She pulled her cloak tight against the rain and stepped up to join the argument.

Greta and her friends ended up by the wall and the front gate where the bonfire got built for the feast, if the rain should ever stop.  Dunova, Alesander and Briana tried to make the elders of the Dragon Clan understand the danger, which was difficult since they had only seen and heard the Wolv from a distance.  Hermes and Lucius both got up on the wall in different places and tried to make the same argument.  Sadly, the elders insisted that they had a good, solid wall and they did not grasp the urgency until a wolf topped the wall and shredded the watcher in that spot. It dropped to the ground by the gate, looking like a wet dog with matted fur, but it had death in its eyes.  One great whiff of air and its nostrils flared, and its teeth showed in a primeval growl.  It looked straight at Greta, but got distracted by Alesander, Dunova and an elder of the Dragon Clan.

All three men drew their swords, and Dunova and the elder charged what they saw as a beast.  The Wolv laughed a recognizable laugh.  It stayed covered with a personal energy shield.  Alesander paused on the laugh while Dunova and the elder’s swords received a strong enough electric shock to make the men stagger.

“My turn,” Festuscato spoke loud and clear in Greta’s head.  “The least I can do for your kindness to the wounded men who fought in Cornwall, and to Cador.”

“Be my guest,” Greta heard from Gerraint and she thought Gerraint’s imposing size would not impress the Wolv in any case.

The Wolv smiled a very doggy, toothy smile and pulled out its own weapon.  Everyone saw two red flashes of light and Dunova and the elder burst into flame with great holes in their middles.

“Go for the weapon,” Greta yelled, as she vanished from that place and Festuscato arrived in his armor and his own weapons in hand.  Alesander somehow understood the message, and he struck at the claw that held the fire pistol.  He got blown back by the electrical discharge from the personal shield, but the pistol cracked and fell with Alesander’s sword to the dirt.

The Wolv howled and looked again for Greta, but she was no longer there.  Festuscato and Briana managed to get close thanks to Alesander’s distraction. Festuscato struck first at the other claw where he saw the watch-like wristband that controlled the Wolv shielding. He cracked the watch, his sword being insulated against electro-magnetic discharges.  Festuscato struck just before Briana’s sword came against the Wolv neck.  Her sword half-severed the head, but still the Wolv managed a claw across Briana’s middle. Briana got cut, but not badly as her leather armor proved strong and her one in a million reflexes made her jump back.

Festuscato followed his first blow with a second that chopped off the main part of the Wolv arm, and Mavis sank an arrow into the Wolv chest where the heart ought to be.  Still, the Wolv refused to go down until Mavis sank a second arrow and Festuscato made a swing for the Wolv leg.  Then three men of the Dragon clan ran up and their two swords and an ax finally finished the job.

Alesander got up, groggy.  Briana held him and tried not to bleed on him.  Lucius shouted from the wall and Hermes jumped to the ground.  Three more Wolv came over the top, and Festuscato swallowed hard for everyone present. Three men died and it took four of them to defeat one Wolv.  Three Wolv seemed insurmountable, and worse, the Wolv knew it.  They were content to take their time and look for Greta; and Festuscato had no doubt who they were after.  The Wolv even talked among themselves in a language no one knew and with a tongue no human tongue could imitate.  They pulled out their weapons when the men of the Dragon Clan mustered the courage to attack.  But no shots were fired and the two sides never met as all three Wolv vanished. Rhiannon appeared next to Festuscato, and the first thing she did was make the clouds move off and the rain stop.

“Mother,” she started right in sounding defensive. “I know your rule about not killing alien people, but Wolv are hardly people.”

“If I had a copper for every time someone used that excuse.  Tsk, tsk,” Festuscato said and went away to let Greta return.  “They are near enough to being people, certainly smarter than dragons.”

“But Mother.”

“Hush.  And the technology?”

“Here.”  Rhiannon held out a leather bag.  It contained five pistols and five wrist bands for personal shields.  “There were six on Celtic land.  This was all they had.  I don’t know what you want to do with the broken ones.”

“It was all they would need for a hunt,” Greta said and accepted the bag.  “You can send the broken ones to Avalon.”  Greta stepped up and kissed Rhiannon on the cheek.  “I don’t blame you.  I thank you for saving many lives.”

“But Mother.  I won’t be able to help you once you leave these lands.  Mithrasis has twisted the minds of the Wolv and they won’t rest until they eat you.”

“Hush,” Greta said a second time.  “I have already told you.  The day for Celtic lands in this part of the world is long gone.  You need to unravel these lands and go over to the other side.  You say you still have work to do, and I won’t argue about it, only you need to stay in the Celtic homeland, in Gaul or Amorica or even Ireland if you have a mind.”

“I will,” Rhiannon said with conviction, but Greta knew it would be done when Rhiannon got good and ready.  “For Mother,” Rhiannon said and returned the kiss to Greta’s cheek, and she vanished along with the cracked pistol and broken wrist watch.

Greta watched Lucius and Hermes run up.  Mavis stood by her side as always.  Alesander and Briana stood in awe of the way Greta and the goddess were so familiar, and they kept silent and waited to hear what Greta had to say.

“We can sleep safely tonight.  Enjoy it while you can.  We leave at dawn, no horses.”

“Mother Greta.”  Someone called from a distance.  Greta turned and nodded, like it was about who she expected.  One tall and one short man came up.  The tall one was Vedix, the hunter from the Bear Clan who once kicked Greta before Danna herself put the fear of the gods in him. The short one wore a glamour that could never fool Greta.  He was Bogus the Skin, a full blood little one who lived up to his stereotype, which was an imp.  But he was also Fae and Berry’s grandfather, so his presence came as no surprise.

“Introduce yourselves to the rest of the crew and then get a good night’s sleep.  We leave when the sun breaks.”  Greta took Mavis and Briana with her to the place set aside for her.  Briana’s scratches needed tending and then Greta planned to follow her own advice and sleep while she could.

Briana remained quiet while Greta applied the bandages.  The scratches were not deep, but they had to guard against infection.  Normally, an elect would heal quickly from such a wound, but no telling what alien microbes might be lurking beneath the surface.

When Greta curled up beneath her blanket, she wondered if Festuscato ever got Patrick to Ireland, or if he found some new pirates to fend off first.  She imagined Mousden screaming about pirates and smiled.  She wondered how Gerraint’s marriage might be working out.  She thought with luck she might dream about them in the night and for one night escape her own troubles.  No telling what she thought about next because she put her hand to her belly and fell asleep.

************************

MONDAY

The crew finds the only path safe from the Wolv, not over or around, but through Movan Mountain.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: The Wolf and the Wolv, part 2 of 3

In the morning, Greta found herself in the bed while Mavis, Briana and Eofach had apparently pulled up spots on the floor. Receiving special treatment happened now and then in a number of her lifetimes, but it felt like something Greta would never get used to.  Greta decided the least she could do for the use of the bed was help fix breakfast, bad a cook as she was.

Greta, as a young mom, had long since given up the idea of sleeping in.  Eofach was an older woman who likely did not need the sleep of the young, so she was awake. Mavis came instantly awake as soon as Greta sat up in bed.  Only Briana looked comfortable, but Greta judged from the look on Briana’s face that she either snuck off to visit Alesander at some point after Greta fell asleep, or she was having wonderful dreams, or both.

“We have to move on today.”  Greta spoke over her warm day-old bread and water, that is, once her eyes opened and her brain started to function.

“Why the rush?” Briana asked

“You only just arrived,” Eofach added.

“Rhiannon’s warning.  Chobar of the Dog Clan has given himself to Mithrasis, and he is coming with a large group of armed men to stop us from continuing on our quest.  I assume they plan to kill us if necessary.”

“But the Dog Clan is many days from here,” Eofach said.

“Rhiannon said they were two days behind us.  And she said there are friends planning to meet us in the village of the Dragon Clan for the next leg of the journey.  We need to be there so we can move on as soon as they arrive.”

“I’ll get the men up and ready,” Briana volunteered.

“I’ll get the horses and Stinky,” Mavis said, and they both looked at Greta who yawned before speaking.

“I have to tell the elders of the Raven Clan not to resist Chobar and his men.  There is no need for bloodshed.”

“What can I do?” Eofach wondered.

“You can come with me,” Greta said.  “I may need your help to convince a bunch of stubborn old men not to make a fuss.  You and Gwydden don’t need practice bandaging bloody arms and legs.”

“Oh, I understand that,” Eofach said with conviction. The woman could just imagine.

###

The travelers left before noon, about as well as could be expected, but now Dunova and his men from the Wolf Clan became doubly determined to see they reached their destination safely.  Greta tried to ignore them all, but as a result, she ended up riding beside Lucius so Mavis could ride beside Hermes and Briana could ride beside Alesander.  Lucius made Greta uncomfortable, but she figured that maybe he was just a soldier with a sour disposition after all.  She tried hard over four days to convince herself it was just a personality thing.

On the very first evening, Greta took Mavis and Briana apart, and she quizzed Briana on all that Rhiannon taught her.  Briana was skilled in many forms of combat, but after only a short while, Greta realized one thing was missing.

“Let go of your thoughts,” Greta said.  “Let your feelings settle down and let your mind wander back along the trail we just took.  Let it go back step by step to the village of the Raven Clan.  Tell me what you feel, more than what you see.  Tell me what you sense. As an elect, you should be able to sense an enemy on the horizon if you know what to look for.”

Greta quieted, and Briana closed her eyes, but after only a moment, she shook her head.  “I’m not sensing anything.  Maybe I’m not doing it right.”

“I am sure you are doing it just fine.  Every woman is to some degree intuitive, but the senses of an elect are directed and focused on potential threats and danger. Trust your intuition.  I imagine Chobar and the Dog Clan are not yet in range. We will try again tomorrow night.

The party moved as quick as they could through the foothills, but it did not seem very fast.  Dunova had the idea that the women needed regular stops and plenty of time to rest.  Greta wanted to hit the man for being a sexist moron, but she held her tongue and simply tried to move things along as well as she could.  Greta knew Briana, with the constitution of an elect, could travel three days to the Dragon village without stopping, and Mavis, being an elf, would be right there with her.  Only Greta had to stop now and then, though not nearly as often as Dunova supposed.

They found no more Lazyges on the path, but that did not mean they were not being watched.  The farms and little hamlets they passed by looked the same as before, but on the third day they began to move up into the mountains, and that slowed them considerably.

On the third night, as the clouds moved in and it began to drizzle, Briana caught the sense that they were being followed.  She got excited before she felt sure she was doing it wrong.

“Trust your intuition,” Greta said as she estimated that the Dog men were a full day or more behind.  That was acceptable since they would make it to the Dragon Clan village by late afternoon.  Greta just hoped that whoever might be coming to join them would already be there waiting. She wanted to get out at dawn and be gone before Chobar arrived.

Mavis woke Greta in the dark of the night before dawn.  The rain had finished for the time being and though it felt cold, people were able to wrap up and sleep.  Briana got up, having suffered a nightmare.  Alesander was there to comfort her, and Lucius and Hermes were sleepy but curious. Only Dunova and the men of the Wolf Clan remained asleep.

“It was awful.”  Briana recounted her nightmare and wept a little.  “It felt like the Were people you were telling me about, and how they always took the form of the wolf to hunt under the full moon.  I got so frightened.”

“Hush,” Alesander prompted.  “Greta has assured us the Were people died out long ago.”

“She mentioned werewolves,” Lucius said, not being at all helpful, but Hermes countered him quickly.

“Not a full moon.”  He pointed to the sky even if the moon stayed hidden by the clouds.

“But it is worse now that I am awake.  I can still sense them, more than ever.” Briana raised her eyes to look at the clouds and shivered.  Alesander held her but quickly let go when Greta appeared at the tent door, like he was a teenager caught by Mother Greta.

“Mavis,” Greta said, as she stepped out beside the fire, Mavis on her heels.  Mavis knew what she wanted and spoke right up.

“Yes, Lady.  I sense a great evil, but it is strange, like nothing I have sensed before.”

“That is because they are not of this world.” Greta got that much out before they heard a great howl echo through the hills.  Lucius and Hermes both looked up and all around, their eyes open at last. Briana and Alesander grabbed hands. Several of the men of the Wolf Clan shifted in their sleep.  “I also had a vision, or a dream.  I saw a streak through the sky in my mind’s eye.  It struck the earth hard and the grass and trees were set aflame.  Let us hope it is an escape pod with no more than six, or at worst a scout ship of ten or twelve.  God help us all if it is a transport of fifty or more.”

The howl came again and seemed closer than before. The men of the Wolf Clan began to stir. “But what is it?” Alesander asked.

“On this world, they have been called Wolv.” Greta looked as frightened as the rest and that did not help the others one bit.   “They were the front-line troops of what I called the Humanoid Empire, an empire in space ruled by people who look much like us.  Let me say the Lords of the Hachari rarely had to send in the second line.  But the Wolv rebelled more than a century ago.  They stole many ships to fly between the stars, and since that time they have eaten and torn their way across many worlds, shredding civilizations, even hunting some people to extinction.  They are not intelligent to repair the technology when it brakes, or in this case crashes to earth, but they are clever enough to use the technology, and to be disciplined, and to eat.  Pray they have not come here in force.”

Greta quieted while the howl came again, this time from a different direction.  She began to rouse the men of the Wolf Clan, and the others helped without asking any more questions.  They had to ride fast and hard to get behind the walls of the Dragon village before they were cut off or pulled down from behind.  Greta prayed for the rain to return, believing it would help disguise their scent and signs of passage.  The rain waited, but the skies opened up when they got near the village.

The village of the Dragon Clan rested in the middle of a cliff with the majority of the village built inside a great cavern carved out of the cliff side.   Eyes on the wall looked out from under the overhang of rock that continued to rise straight up above the stockade wall.  They saw a narrow path that zig-zagged up the side of the cliff.  They reached the base of that path and felt safe before they saw their first Wolv.  It stood on its hind legs at the edge of the forest, beyond a harvested field, on a hill at a distance where it could just be made out in the rain against the trees. It watched them in return.  Hermes could not quite see it, but he had no doubt it was there when the thing reared its head back and let out a chilling howl that echoed up to the gate.  That got followed by several bark-like sounds and something of a roar.

The travelers and their escort scurried up to the village as fast as was safe on the slippery path.  They got the gate shut tight, but then had to convince the Dragon Clan that they were in danger of immanent attack.